Mary Carroll Nurre Austin, eighth first lady of East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University-Commerce), daughter of Edward Charles Nurre and Edythe M. (Carroll) Nurre, was born on May 25, 1936, in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the first of five children. During 1954 Nurre graduated from Saint Ursula Academy and married Charles John Austin one year later on June 4, 1955. The couple eventually had five children: Lynn, Charles Jr., Christopher, Carroll Jane, and Andrew. Carroll Austin worked at the Cincinnati Public Library until 1956. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1965. After recovering, later in life, she became dedicated in her philanthropic work for organizations focused on support and recovery of cancer patients, survivors, and family. For twelve years, she volunteered at Reach to Recovery. She served on two American Cancer Society boards, including one in Hunt County, Texas, and she was on the board of the League of Women Voters at Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Charles Austin became the eighth president of East Texas State University (ETSU) on February 1, 1982. The University Dames held a reception to welcome Carrol Austin to the campus and community on March 2, 1982. Unable to move into the president’s residence until February 3, 1982, the couple stayed in married student housing during the first two weeks at the university. Austin made the home a place for both the family and social events. Her husband was inaugurated on September 25, 1982.
At ETSU, Carroll Austin was heavily involved with the beautification of both the campus and the Commerce community. She began a unique tradition during the holiday season when she and her husband planted fauna around the campus, rather than send traditional greeting cards to members of the campus community. The Austins carefully thought out these additions by taking the time to pick trees like the Texas red oak, a tree they planted in 1984. Others on campus recognized her beautification efforts. The University Dames planted a live oak tree at the entrance of ETSU to honor Austin for her devotion to enhancing the ETSU and Commerce communities.
Perhaps one of the most long-lasting of Austin’s efforts was the establishment of the Louise Drake Garden Club. Organized in 1982, it held its first meeting that September with a focus on the improvement of the downtown square in Commerce. However, the efforts of Austin and the Louise Drake Garden Club were not without criticism. In 1984 a proposed plan to reorganize the downtown square was met with resistance, as local business owners worried about the upkeep of proposed changes and beautifications after the Austins were no longer part of the Commerce community. Austin defended the proposed beautification in a letter to the editor and proclaimed that the Louise Drake Garden Club “will continue to work for Commerce as many garden clubs are working for their communities all over this country.” Additionally, she responded to questions about her own personal involvement with the community by stating that “my husband and I love Commerce and . . . we hope to call it ‘home’ for many years to come.”
In 1986 Charles Austin resigned from ETSU to become the Chairman of Academics in Health Services and Administration at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Charles Austin credited his wife for improving the ETSU campus, and stated that during the five years the couple spent in Commerce, the two exited the city “with some good memories.” The couple later retired, and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where Austin enjoyed “reading, walking the beach . . . making new friends and seeing old friends often.” In 2008 they moved into Westminster Village, a retirement community, in Muncie, Indiana. On August 19, 2011, Austin passed away in her home from natural causes. Her remains were cremated. Texas A&M University-Commerce, formerly ETSU, honored Austin on September 22, 2011.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Commerce Journal, September 19, 1984. Scott Harvey, “A&M-C honors wife of 8th university president,” KETR, Notably Texan, September 21, 2011 (http://ketr.org/term/carroll-austin), accessed August 1, 2018. Vertical Files (Charles John Austin), Special Collections, James G. Gee Library, Texas A&M University-Commerce.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Abigail Wright and Meagan May,
“Austin, Mary Carroll Nurre,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed September 22, 2021,
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